Heading out of town? You may want to update your estate plan before you go.
Summer isn’t over yet; there’s still plenty of time between now and when the leaves start their annual transformation to hit the road or jet away for a few days to rest, restore and explore. Before you go, though, there’s one critical item to check off your pre-trip prep list: update your estate plan. And if you don’t already have an estate plan, then now is one of the best times to create one.
You can plan every little detail of your trip but there’s just no way to plan for the unexpected. Car accidents increase in the summer when more folks than normal are on the road and there’s no telling when a sudden illness might strike. The best you can do to prepare for the worst – a situation in which you’re suddenly unable to make decisions or care for your loved ones – is to ensure your estate plan is in order.
There are a few key items in particular that you should review and/or have in place before you pack your bags, including:
1. A care plan for any minor children.
Whether the kids are joining you on your trip or staycationing with grandma and grandpa while you’re away, it’s critical to make sure this part of your plan is in order before you go. Make sure you have a guardian listed for each minor child (it can be the same person for each child).
A guardian is the person who you would like to care for your child(ren) in the event that neither you nor the other parent is able to do so. It’s even a good idea to include a backup guardian in case your first choice is unable to serve in that role.
You can also put in writing who you would like to manage any inheritance your child(ren) would receive. This person is called a conservator (click here to learn more about the difference between guardians and conservators).
Bonus tip: If the kids are staying behind, it probably goes without saying that you would leave their caretaker with a list of allergies, medications, doctor’s phone number, etc. But you should also consider giving those caretakers the authority to make medical decisions for your children while you’re away. And if the kids are coming along, bring that list of medical information with you.
2. A living will and medical power of attorney documents.
A living will is a type of advanced directive, which is a legal document that states your health care preferences in the event that you’re unable to make decisions for yourself. It covers things like whether you would want to be kept alive on life support if you became seriously ill or injured. By documenting your wishes in a living will, you relieve loved ones of the burden of having to guess at what you would want in that situation.
A medical durable power of attorney is a document you sign to appoint someone to make health care decisions for you in the event that you’re unable to do so.
Bonus tip: Take a moment to understand the laws regarding health care decisions in the state you’re traveling to (if you’re traveling to another state within the United States) to confirm that your living will would be valid if you became incapacitated and couldn’t be moved from a hospital in another state. People with known conditions who travel frequently between states will often create multiple versions of their living will, one for each state where they spend time.
3. A plan for your assets.
Whether you use a will or a trust (click here to learn more about the difference between a will and a trust) to determine who will receive your assets when you die, this is a good time to check in with these documents to make sure they’re up to date and reflect any changes – births, deaths, divorces – that have happened among your beneficiaries since you created it, or since your last check in.
Of course, if you don’t already have a will or a living trust, then it’s a good idea to create one before you depart on your trip.
Bonus tip: Create or update a master file, whether electronic or hard copy, of all your accounts and documents before your vacation. Include login information where necessary, put it all in a safe, but obvious place and make sure someone, like your estate planning attorney and/or your loved ones, know where to find it. This will make it easy to access your accounts and find pertinent information if something happens to you while you’re away.
After you’ve taken the time to create or update your documents, an important final step is to make sure those people you’ve identified to make decisions or act on your behalf are aware of the role to which you’ve appointed them.
While these are all important considerations to take with regard to your estate plan before you go on vacation, this list is not exhaustive, nor is it one-size-fits-all. The best way to make sure your estate plan is as comprehensive as possible is to work with an attorney like Robinson & Henry’s Colorado Springs estate planning attorney Michael Hanchett.
Michael Hanchett is Robinson & Henry’s lead estate planning attorney. He helps individuals and business owners plan for the future by drafting powers of attorney, last wills and testaments, trusts and advance directives. Please call 303-688-0944 or click here to schedule a free consultation with Mike.